Bristol-Myers' Abilify coupons prevail in health-plan lawsuit

Here's a victory for co-pay coupons. A federal judge tossed out a lawsuit filed by health plans unhappy with Bristol-Myers Squibb's ($BMY) co-pay offers on Abilify. The insurers accused the drugmaker of racketeering and bribery for using coupons to combat generic versions of the antipsychotic drug.

Bristol-Myers' Abilify offer resembles co-pay assistance offered by a host of other drugmakers. As blockbuster drugs and their competitors approached the patent cliff, companies have rolled out co-pay coupons to persuade patients to stay on their branded meds. The coupons aimed to thwart insurers' tiered formularies, which encourage generic use by forcing patients to pay more for the brand.

Needless to say, payers weren't happy with this onslaught of offers. They count on saving money by steering patients to generics. And so a variety of health plans sued drugmakers, claiming that the co-pay coupons amount to bribes. The lawsuits also claim that the discounts violate antitrust laws.

The Bristol-Myers decision, then, provides a clue to the fate of these other legal claims. According to Thomson Reuters, U.S. District Judge Paul Oetken rejected the plans' claims that Bristol-Myers defrauded them and nixed allegations of commercial bribery as well. Oetken did leave the door open for a new complaint, limited to allegations that the company misrepresented benchmark prices for the drug.

Pfizer ($PFE) figures that its own case--which involves discount programs for the now-off-patent Lipitor, among other drugs--will also end in disappointment for the health plans. The coupons are good for patients, the company says; they allow doctors to choose the best drug for the job "by reducing the choice-limited burden of high co-pays imposed by insurers," Pfizer said (as quoted by Thomson Reuters).

Co-pay coupon cases are also pending against Novartis ($NVS), GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) and Abbott Laboratories ($ABT). Cases against Merck ($MRK) and AstraZeneca ($AZN) have been dismissed but may be refiled, a representative for a coalition of health plans told the news service.

- read the Thomson Reuters story

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